The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Dave Sweeney explains what today’s announcement – that Australia’s next submarine fleet will be nuclear-powered – might mean for Australia.
“While there is much we still don’t know about the new defence deal with the USA and Britain, this is a significant move with serious implications for Australia.
“Nuclear powered submarines pose specific environmental and security concerns – to Australian ports, shipyards and seas.
“At this stage it’s not clear whether the plan is to manufacture nuclear-powered submarines in Australia or to assemble submarines that have been purchased from the UK and the US, but regardless this announcement raises concerns about the management of nuclear waste and the human and environmental impacts.
“This arrangement will further imbed Australia into global war-fighting plans and is a blow to Australian sovereignty.
“It is worth noting the UK and USA are both in breach of their international obligations on nuclear weapons.
“ACF welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitment today that this new arrangement does not signal a move towards domestic nuclear power or nuclear weapons.
“Australians could have confidence in the Prime Minister’s statement if he signed and ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons now.
“Not to do so leaves the door open for a future stealthy slide towards nuclear weapons.
“Nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers are powered by onboard nuclear reactors.
“The controlled splitting of atoms releases heat which boils water and generates steam. This in turn drives turbines that power the propellor and provide electricity for the vessel.
“Nuclear power does not require air, so the submarine can remain submerged for long periods.
“It is likely these submarines would be prohibited from visiting New Zealand and many Pacific nations that have bans on nuclear-powered vessels.
“There remain many unanswered questions about manufacturing impacts and environmental costs.
“There is a need for further detail and debate over many aspects of this arrangement, not the least of which is the immense cost to the taxpayer – money that could be spent on things that really make Australians more secure – making our nation more resilient to climate change, more public housing, better public education, legal aid and clean energy.”
Submarine pic by Behan via flickr creative commons